An Artificial Ethos: Between India and Bharat

The debate between India and Bharat has fought in various shades, over various times and over different parts of what we refer today as the Republic of India. So much has been written about it that the debate is now littered with clichés and political rhetoric. Sharad Joshi, writing for the Hindu Business line also lays claim to the fact that he was the first one (in 1978) to use the word to describe the divide in the country (Joshi). This debate can of course be divided into three levels of analysis, because it works at all these different levels. There is the historical, the geographical and then the moral/ cultural.


Historically, the distinction between Bharat and India gets made based on the advent of British colonial rule serving as a clear schism between our ancient conceptions of Bharat as being a land of kings and India being that of paupers. Now there are two sides of this argument that people come down on. One is that Bharat was always a united entity and that there was a thread of commonality that ran through the residents of the geographical entity. The other is that Bharat was an imagined domain, and that the true unification of the land came into existence only with the British. Simply put, these two views are colonial and post- colonial in nature.


Ancient India, or at the very least, India up till the colonial times was never completely unified under one ruler. This also leads us to the distinction that exists between the fertile alluvial North and the Deccan (Clémentin-Ojha, 10). Apart form this divide as to the exact heartland of what you would call Bharat, there is also the divide that exists between rural and urban India, although the nature of that divide is a lot less clear to us now. This is a result of economic disparity in what would have previously been called the “hinterlands”of India. This has resulted in large scale rural to urban migration. Of course, as we did see in the case of China, this is not a process that is one- directional in nature and thus we could see this trend change too (Chakravarty).


The biggest difference that we see between the concepts of Bharat and India when it comes to culture is the fact that Bharat brings to mind what we have increasingly come to refer to as traditional family values, whereas India on the other hand reserves the right to pick and choose when it comes to what its citizens love and what they refuse to accept.

Bridging the Divide

Perhaps one of the simplest and perhaps the most honest ways to bridge this divide would be by understanding that the two conceptions that we have of India and Bharat are two different parts of the same narrative, that of a country that in a post- colonial and post- industrial world is trying to find its place among the various countries of the international system (Joshi).

This narrative then is characterised by a difference in terms of family structure, aspirations and culture. This is truly what sets a people apart from each other in terms of dividing them into these artificial boxes of Bharat and India. What becomes important in terms of trying to understand how to bridge this divide, is trying to understand how it came to be to begin with. The answer to this very simply is economic. Globalisation, which started well before the liberalisation of the economy, eventually gave way to more economic opportunity. This meant that Indians (or the sons of Bharat?) would be better educated than before, and as a result of this, would be afforded a life style that was mediated on the consumption of products (both physical and media-based) that would allow them entry into an “elite” club, that of the western educated gentry (Joshi). This phenomenon is of course not confined to an earlier age, and we still see middle and lower-middle class aspiration today. One example of this is how prevalent the scene of alcohol, women and clubs which feature electronic music is in Bollywood movies. The reason for this of course is not that the majority of India understands the cultural symbols that are inherent in it, but that this is the escape of the middle class.

Aspiration and expectation then, creates this divide between Bharat and India. Bharat is not the land of the farmer anymore, but rather the land of the poor. India is not the land of the educated, but the land of the educated unemployed. They are both different levels of expectations. Bharat expects jobs, grooms for its daughters and brides for its sons. India expects opportunity, freedom in the social and the sexual realms and good seats at the movies on its days off.

Bridging the divide would require a sea change in two specific areas of human existence and that is: education and culture. Now, culture is a little harder to manipulate than education is. Education policy can always be determined and streamlined by the government. Culture on the other hand, even though it can be produced and distributed, has a rather ethereal quality to it and thus would take generations to manipulate to suit the needs of the manipulator, as it were.

Education takes pride of place here as the most significant means of bridging the divide between Bharat and India. Education if offered on an equitable basis to citizens of the country, or the geographical entity that is India or Bharat will not only create a uniform template on which the cultural ethos of a people is based, but also provide individuals the tools and credentials to aspire to approximately the same jobs and lifestyle centred aspirations of the upper classes (The NDTV Dialogues). This is other words would mean an increased permeability of the social and the economic classes. Here it must be added that there are commentators such as Joshi also think about the divide in terms of the flow of information from urban centres to rural centres and how this affects the productivity of those who live outside of cities (Joshi).

While we can hypothesise on the various means that afforded to us to bridge the divide, it is important to understand that the divide between Bharat and India is more a bureaucratic one. It is a divide that exists on paper. It started as a neat means of the Colonial Raj of creating artificial borders for a country that knew none, creating citizen rosters and levels of organisation so that they might best exploit the natural resources and labor of a people. In what might seem like a patently alternative statement, maybe its time we moved past all the neat cliches of the Bharat-India chasm.

By: Anirudh Rangarajan


New Delhi Television Limited. The NDTV dialogues: The growing divide between Bharat and India. 4th October, 2013 (Link:

Live Mint. Is the India vs Bharat trope passé? by Manas Chakravarty. 30th November, 2015 (Link:

Hindu Business Line. The Great India-Bharat divide by Sharad Joshi. 12th February 2003 (Link:

The World Bank. Households or locations? Cities, catchment areas and prosperity in India by Yue Li and Martin Rama. 13th July, 2015 (Link:

‘India, that is Bharat…’: One Country, Two Names by Catherine Clémentin-Ojha. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 2014 (Link:

Leave a Reply